23 Central America Books That Will Inspire You To Plan Your Own Trip

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I love Central America SO MUCH. It was my first solo adventure and I think about going back more days than not. So, continuing this Latin America streak, I’m sharing amazing books set in Central America today.

This is a lot of Central America travel books and travel memoirs. There is some fiction, too, but the majority of it is non-fiction which also happens to be what I love reading about the most as far as Latin America goes.

That’s not why most of the list is non-fiction, it just worked out that way. Either way, I hope some of the Central America books sound good to you and you pick them up! I know, like usual, I’ve gotten a few and added some to my wishlist as I made this post.

  • If you want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free.  Get that Audible deal here.
  • If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd!  You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot. Sign up for Scribd here!
  • Shop my collection of bookish goodies on Etsy! These aren’t my shop items, but other shops I’ve curated into a book-themed collection. Shop my Etsy bookish goodies here!
  • If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option. It’s $9.99 a month but if you read a lot and like to read more than just new releases, it could be worth it. Get Kindle Unlimited here!
  • Get $5 off of $25 from BookOutlet! This is a great place to find new books for pretty cheap. They also have sales quite a bit, so keep an eye out for those. I tend to check here for books I want if they’re more expensive other places. They don’t have everything but they do have a lot. Shop BookOutlet here!
  • Thrift Books has become my go-to when I’m looking for a book and want it cheap. It’s great if you like buying used books. With this you can get a free book after spending $30!
  • Shop my book lists here! You can find every book list I have on Bookshop.org (except my monthly round-ups) and I add everything I can but they occasionally won’t have some. I do occasionally add extras though. If any lists are empty, they’ll be filled in shortly! Shop my bookshop.org book lists here.
  • Shopping internationally? Check out Book Depository!

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Rumors have gone around since the days of Hernán Cortez of a lost city of immense wealth called wither the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. 

Indigenous tribes speak of relatives that fled here from the conquistadors and warn that anyone who enters the sacred city will fall ill and die.

In 1940, Theodore Morde emerged from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and a wild story of having found the Lost City but then he commits suicide without revealing the location. 

In 2012 Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking quest.  They face jaguars, torrential rain, quickmud and more, but tragedy only strikes once they leave the jungle.

Happier than a Billionaire

I read this one years ago and I won’t lie, it made me want to move to Costa Rica. I really enjoyed this one.

This is Nadine’s funny account of quitting her job to start a new life in Costa Rica, one of the happiest places on Earth.

She shares about quirky neighbors, unreliable utilities, and red tape they faced to move there while risking it all to start over.

The Travelers Within: Into the Unknown

I just got this one and can’t wait to read it! I saw this not too long ago and won’t lie, just noticed it’s fiction haha. I’m still very excited to read it though. If you want a fiction adventure book set in Central America, this is for you.

Unexpected events land Simon in the wilds of Central America where he meets Jonah, a young survival expert. Together they set off on an epic journey through the mountains of Guatemala, the jungles of Nicaragua, and the islands of Honduras.

Off the Beaten Trail: A Young Man’s Soul Searching Journey Through Central America

Jake set out on the typical path expected of him at 18 but he begins questioning if that’s all there is to life. He unravels what it means to be alive as he explores Guatemalan jungles, gets stranded on Nicaraguan mountaintops, and lives in a spiritual island community.

Adventure by Chicken Bus: An Unschooling Odyssey through Central America

Janet and her family are at their wits’ end and determined to make a change from under their mountain of debt. They sell everything then hit the road with a four-person tent, some clothes, and little else to see endangered sea turtles in Costa Rica.

Between rides from strangers and sleeping in the jungle, they favor public transportation called chicken buses. She shares what it takes to travel with two young girls amid border crossings, erratic drivers, and creepy crawlies.

The Fallen Stones: Chasing Butterflies, Discovering Mayan Secrets, and Looking for Hope Along the Way

In Belize, on top of a mountain, next to ruins of a fallen civilization, it starts out as the worst vacation ever and quickly turns into a quest to learn about a farm/wildlife sanctuary that is supported by its international live-butterfly trade.

She meets the minds behind the trade and moves into an empty jungle house with her new partner Jack, bats, scorpions, iguanas, and butterflies. What they don’t know is ahead, though, is a hurricane and a global pandemic.

The Only Road

While Jame is drawing, he hears a scream and knows his cousin and best friend, Miguel, is dead. Everyone in his small Guatemalan town knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a violent drug trafficking gang.

Like Miguel, anyone who refuses to work with them is hurt or killed and now Jamie fears he’s next and his only choice now is to flee to Mexico with his cousin Angela.

The Polish Boxer

This is a collection of encounters in a search for origins. A grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather’s history, a Serbian classical pianist longs for forbidden heritage, a Mayan poet is torn between studies and filial obligations.

A young Isreali woman looks for answers in Central America while a professor yearns for knowledge not found in books but unexpectedly at a Mark Twain conference.

Eduardo, a Guatemalan literature professor, pursues himself, his most enigmatic subject of all across his encounters with the others.

Enrique’s Journey

This is the true story of Enrique who, at sixteen, sets off on a journey alone to find his mother he hasn’t seen for eleven years. She left Honduras to enter the US illegally to hopefully make enough money to send home.

He sets off with little more than her phone number in his pocket as he is confronted by bandits, rides the tops of trains, and is often buoyed by kindness from strangers and luck in finding food and water.

If you’re looking for a non-fiction book set in Central America this is perfect for you.

The Far Away Brothers

To Ernesto and Raul Flores, identical twins, in rural El Salvador and the wake of civil war, the United States was a distant dream. But at seventeen, a deadly threat from one of the region’s brutal gangs forces them to flee the only home they’ve ever known.

This is their journey across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of Immigration authorities, and finally to their estranged older brother in Oakland, California.

With just each other for support, now they face school in an unfamiliar language while working to pay off their mounting coyote debt, and of course, their day in immigration court.

In Search of Captain Zero

Allan sold everything in 1996 and set off with his dogs and surfboards in his truck to find his long-lost surfing companion, Patrick, who disappeared into the depths of Central America.

These are the tales from his time crossing from Mexico to Costa Rica uncovering secrets of Patrick’s disappearance and everything that happens in between.

Can’t You Get Along With Anyone?

This is actually a follow-up to the previous book! Most thought the tale had been told, but life said otherwise.

This is the story of the bizarre and convoluted events that forced him to leave his adopted home in Costa Rica.

Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America

This is actually why I went to Central America. For real. And yes, this is the amazing thriller author Catherine Ryan Howard.  

She invited herself on her friend’s backpacking trip through Central America, not sure what she’s getting herself into.  She’s happier reading by a pool but ends up climbing volcanos, attempting to learn Spanish, drinking coffee, living with mutant cockroaches, and throwing up in the street.

This is one of my favorite books ever and I re-read it probably every year.

The Jolly Roger Social Club

Here’s another great non-fiction option and it sounds wild.

William Dathan Holbert, Wild Bill, is awaiting trial in Bocas del Toro, Panama for the murder of five other American ex-pats. The Brown family lived on a remote area in the area’s Darklands and were his first victims.

There, he turned their home into the “Jolly Roger Social Club” where he threw alcohol and drug-fueled parties to get to know his fellow ex-pats. The club tagline was “over 90% of our members survive,” the odds not in his victims favor.

This is about his complex financial and real estate-related motives, why Bocas del Toro was the perfect hunting grounds, and why they even tolerated and accepted him for a while.

The Full Montezuma

Peter Moore invited the new love of his life to join him on a romantic sojourn through Central America. She jumps at the chance and for the next six months, they battle hurricanes, mosquitos, border officials, and they learned more about each other than they really wanted to.

These are the highs and lows of their journey into the unknown. I think I want to give this one a shot.

The Mosquito Coast

Allie Fox, a paranoid but brilliant inventor, moved his family to the Honduran jungle to try and build a civilization better than the one they just left. He hopes to rediscover a purer life but his utopian experiment takes a dark turn and leads the family to unimaginable danger.

I got this one last year on a Kindle deal and won’t lie, thought it was non-fiction haha. It actually sounds way more interesting than I thought though.

The Adventurer’s Son

I wanted to read this as soon as I saw it then managed to get it on a Kindle deal and can’t wait to read it.

On July 10, 2014, Cody Roman Dial went hiking alone in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park, an untracked rainforest home to miners, poachers, and smugglers.

He emailed his father: “I am not sure how long it will take me, but I’m planning on doing 4 days in the jungle and a day to walk out. I’ll be bounded by a trail to the west and the coast everywhere else, so it should be difficult to get lost forever.”

These were the last words his father received from his son. As soon as his return date passed with no word, Roman set off for Costa Rica.

He trekked through the jungle, interviewed locals, and searched for clues -the authorities suspected murder- and faced the deepest questions about himself and his role in the events.

I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

This is the story of Rigoberta Manchu’s life as a peasant woman in Guatemala where she suffered gross injustice and hardship in her early life: her family was murdered by the Guatemalan military.

She learns Spanish and commits to catechistic work as political revolt and religious commitment. She vividly conveys her community’s traditional beliefs and her personal response to feminist and socialist ideas.

Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala

Between the late 1970s and mi 1980s, Guatemala was torn by civil war where more than 600 massacres occurred in villages destroyed by the army. One and a half million people were displaced and more than 200,000 were murdered.

Buried Secrets brings these numbers to life by chronicling the stories of Mayan survivors seeking truth, justice, and community healing.

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal

In 1914, the Panama Canal opened and was celebrated, but thousands lost their lives and, those who didn’t, worked under the harshest conditions for one a few silver coins per day.

This is the story of the people who built the Canal and the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself.

House of the Waterlilly: A Novel of the Ancient Maya World

This is historical fiction about Lady Winik, a young Maya royal and the tribulations faced in the political calamities of the Late Classic world. It’s the story of her personal life and the difficult decisions people of that time must have faced.

Heart of Palms: My Peace Corps Years in Tranquilla

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Meredith is sent to help counter deforestation that’s destroying the ecosystems and livelihoods around the Panama Canal.

This is the chronicle of her struggle upon arrival, her funny encounters as she learns to live a new lifestyle, and her powerlessness when it comes to replanting trees being cut down. While facing deforestation, she also faces a battle against her own feelings of fear and isolation.

Triumph and Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras

When Barbara announced she was joining the Peace Corps at 63, a male friend said she would be home “by Christmas at the latest.” Instead, she found adventure, challenges, and the motivation to extend her service beyond the usual two years.

Have you read any of these Central America books? Which ones? Any other books set in Central America I should check out?

Author: Megan Johnson

I'm Megan, a cheesehead at heart currently residing in the Sunshine State. You can probably find me reading, watching Forensic Files, or both.

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